The Efficient Mac User

What's in Your Workspace?

- 2006.05.23 - Tip Jar

We recently moved from our seminary apartment to a rented house (both in St. Louis). This, by the way, explains the gap since the last Efficient Mac User column.

The move gave me a chance to reevaluate my desktop. Not the "desktop" on my Mac - the actual desk that I work on at home. As I set things up, I was forced to adjust my space to suit the new room, and it became an exercise in introspection.

This is an important question: What's in your workspace?

As I have settled into a new study, I have asked myself this question several times. Sometimes the answer wasn't clear - and that gave me pause, as I value efficiency highly. I want a workspace that suits me well and allows me to fulfill my tasks easily.

Let me give you some background. In our apartment, there was a corner in the basement that we sectioned off with bookcases and reserved for my desk(s), filing cabinets, computers, and many books. Though it was something of a "pseudo-room", we referred to it as my "study" because, in fact, that is where, as a full-time graduate student and a full-time teacher, I did most of my studying.

That space was set up somewhat hastily. My computer setup was also completely different at that time: I had a laptop that I used primarily on the go (in the library and in classes, both those I was taking and those I taught). When I used it at home, I set it up on an antique writing desk that was against one wall of my study.

I also had a desktop computer that was set up on my main desk - a large computer desk with a hutch that was on the opposite wall. These computers were networked, and certain files were synched regularly to give me easy access at home and away from home.

By the time I finished seminary in December, this space was considerably less useful to me. My work habits had changed, my work itself had changed, and my workspace had not adapted to suit the changes. I was glad for the move in this way: It forced a much-needed adjustment in how I worked at home.

Now my circumstances are very different indeed. Having finished graduate school, I don't do quite as much "study" as I do "work". I don't need ready access to as many books, so I've slimmed down from 10 completely filled bookshelves to two large and two small shelves (and they're not crammed full anymore). The writing desk has moved to a different room, since my large desk is adequate for all of my needs now. On top of that, my one iBook serves as my only computer, so I don't require as complex a computer setup as I once had.

In essence, I like to think that my life has simplified a bit and my workspace can - and should - reflect that. Which brings me back to that question: "What's in your workspace, Ed?"

I'll break down the contents into categories. These are the tools in my workspace.

Computing Tools

My computer is the center of my work environment, and I spend 90% or more of my work time using it. This is a key category.

  • "Docking" components. For my iBook, "docking" is fairly straightforward: a single USB cable (attached to a hub) and a power supply. Both of these are permanent parts of my workspace setup, so they're always in the same place. Keyboard, trackball, and other peripherals are attached through a USB hub.
  • Griffin's iCurve laptop stand. A great tool that raises my iBook to eye level. Sleek and pretty on the desk, too, even when no Mac is occupying it.
  • Laser printer, color/photo inkjet, and photo-quality scanner. My immediate peripherals are a roll of the desk chair away, residing atop the file cabinets on either side of the desk.
  • Network tools. A DSL line serves us via wireless router, both of which are tucked behind the printers. (A third cable for a direct network connection to the router lies beside the USB "docking" cable, but I seldom use it.) Also, we have a "network-attached storage" drive for backups, 200 GB, that's also back there. The laser printer is attached via print server so that Marcie's Mac mini can print also.

Writing Tools

I'm writing more and more, and it's especially becoming a focal part of my work done at home. This is easily the second highest defining element of my workspace.

  • Standard references. Naturally, there are a dictionary and a thesaurus at my fingertips. In fact, two thesauri (Roget's and Rodale's The Synonym Finder) and a standard compact dictionary are in my hutch, and my Random House Unabridged Dictionary is on a stand on the small bookshelf next to the desk.
  • Standard writing references. I also keep The Chicago Manual of Style, Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations, and Fowler's English Usage in my hutch, again at my fingertips.
  • Other geeky writing references. Okay, so I have a bunch of these. Samuel Johnson's Dictionary, the Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, The Oxford Concise Dictionary of Literary Terms, Words that Make a Difference, The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang, The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, Mueller's Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms, and Lynne Truss's Eats, Shoots & Leaves are all at hand.
  • Moleskine journal. I've recently begun trying to capture a sentence or two in reflection on my day most days in the week. This is a new work in progress.
  • Quick reference files. Like many desks, mine has a small drawer appropriate to store hanging files. I thought about setting up a 43-folder "Getting Things Done" arrangement here (I already have one at work), but for now it just holds stuff that I've gathered for writing projects. Clipped articles, photos, illustrations, research data - if it's not in my computer, it's probably in here.

Other Tools

There are other things around, but none of them are substantial enough to justify their own category. I'll list a few examples.

  • Pipes and pipe-smoking stuff. While there are enough gadgets to qualify as a category, this is esoteric. Yes, I smoke a pipe - probably about twice a month on average, just enough to savor the wonderful flavor of really good tobacco. No, I don't inhale.
  • Random literature/reference. I've got a few things like HTML for Dummies and a Photoshop Elements guide nearby. Also David Allen's Getting Things Done, Robert's Rules of Order, Cliff Atkinson's Beyond Bullet Points, and a handful of others that I find regularly useful. (Of course, there are dozens - even hundreds - of books within a few feet, but the ones that can be reached without moving must be certain volumes.)
  • Computer "maintenance" stuff. I've got a video calibrator nearby, since I do just enough digital photography work to warrant that. I also keep all of my software and license information in a large binder, and it's on a nearby shelf.
  • Life stuff. I have a number of very important parts of my life that aren't my work; I need to be constantly reminded of these while working. Pictures, artwork by my kids, mementos, and such things keep me anchored.

How about you? What's in your workspace? I'd love to hear from you about what you keep around you and how it is arranged. LEM

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